With the internet of things increasingly making its way through into our day to day, we thought it'd be useful for you to get an honest review of the two biggest voice assistant speaker; Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home Mini. We discuss price, appearance, voice recognition and more, helping you decide which home smart speaker is the right one for you.
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Daniel: Welcome to this edition of Compsoft Creative rumour notes
This is where we look at the things that are happening today in digital and mobile and I guess shine our beacons of light of intelligence and weed out the good the bad and the ugly, share it with you folks at home, so you can make informed decisions about whether you buy this stuff, whether you integrate it with your apps or what not
In this episode, we’re going to be looking at the google home and the amazon echo which are the baby sisters I guess because they’ve both got girl voices at the moment to their larger counterparts, and we're looking at these ahead of apple’s homepod coming out, which has now been delayed until next year which is a bit of a shame because I'm quite looking forward to seeing that. Gentlemen, what were your first thoughts on the products themselves?
Mike: overall, I'm fairly impressed with the product at the price point, it’s not that expensive but equally, doesn’t do too much at the moment
Daniel: do you like the look of it?
Mike: yeah it’s alright, it does the job
George: um, compared to the Google, the google home, I think that’s a little bit more ugly. I think this could fit more seamlessly into a home whereas that, I'm not so sure
Daniel: it feels like, that’s my initial thoughts on kind of the actual look and feel of the things, this is like soft and fabric-y and like you say, a bit more homey and this is a little bit plasticky, thought it does have the cool, Alexa. That, I like that. Whereas the google’s little one is, hey google. SO I think as we look at them, it feels to me like the Google Home fits better in a home environment and is a bit softer. This has got the cool LED, but a bit plasticky for me.
So set up, I know you’ve taken this one home and played with this one. I've set them both up and I found that the Google Home is really really easy to set up compared to the echo dot because with the echo dot you have to connect to it in your phone as if it’s a wi-fi router, then you put it onto the wifi, whereas Google Home is using bluetooth to do that, so you just have to get it near and then you can connect it straight to wifi without faffing around in settings. SO I found the general setup was much easier with this. What were your thoughts on getting it going?
Mike: Yeah, I had a couple of issues. So most of the setup of these products are mostly done via an app rather than interaction with the device directly, and we did have some problems where I think every time we’ve tried to set the dot up now, we’ve had to force quit the app to be able to go and get through it, but other than that, I found it fine, to be honest. It was quite nice. It picked up some details off my amazon account automatically so you didn't have to go through any sort of large input or large setup process, it knew who you were. But yeah, I thought it was okay.
Daniel: I think one of the interesting things with this is I set it up on my desk against my own amazon account and then when I went to my amazon basket and shortly thereafter, I found some, well, not the sort of items you’d want your wife or your mother to find in your basket thanks to some hilarious colleagues. So I think there’s, genuinely, I think there’s a security thing because actually my kids are always accidentally ordering online with amazon and this could potentially make it a lot easier. SO there are games aren’t there available on the echo dot which, we’ve been playing them, where you give it a question and answer so
Mike: you kind of choose your own adventure style stuff
Daniel: yeah, 20 questions is quite cool. So there’s more stuff because the echo dot has been out there for longer, so there’s more games available, apps available for the piece of kit, but you’ve got to be careful of kids with that because again the sensitive data.
So, how did you find the speech recognition on both these units, because you’re supposed to be able to talk to them as if they are humans
Mike: yeah, I didn’t have any issues with it. I mean you kind of attack these things with an idea of what they will accept and what they won’t accept. Only a couple of times really I was let down with thinking it would understand what I was talking about. Something that’s important that we’ve been discussing in the office is the idea of context. So if you ask the unit something, if you ask it a subsequent question, you shouldn’t need to give it the context of the first question for it to be able to understand what you’re saying
Daniel: And I found that Alexa, that’s the character to whom you speak, was not nearly as good at natural speak recognition, and the variety of response and understanding, and that context… you can say 3 or 4 things to the Google home and she’ll go with you retaining reference. So you can say is there a mcdonalds near here and she’ll tell you there is one, and then you can say, what do they have on the menu and she can try and find that answer because she knows we’re talking about mcdonalds. And I found that Alexa was far more limited.
George: I think google pumped quite a bit of money into that contextual stuff because obviously with the latest pixel phones the google assistant is what’s the same as on the google home so that in your hand, it’s much more important ot have that contextual…
Daniel: and actually in terms of data, Google clearly have access to reams of data compared to amazon
Mike: Yeah, so that was a huge thing when I was testing this. I was trying to find opening times of a local shop and asking it, and alexa just knew about none of the local shops. Even the bigger ones that were very comfortably known with google, alexa had no idea about them.
Daniel: and the other thing I noticed was, if we look at what google were announcing, in terms of the natural speech recognition and the artificial intelligence and the machine learning they’re putting in. that is really apparent in this product, which I found a lot less so in what amaozn have provided.
So, are these things useful?
Mike: I did actually find some use for it but it kind of goes back to what I was saying earlier about the price point. It is a really cheap product. I found some minor uses for it, for example, a really good one was the obvious one, which was asking the weather for the day. You could just go and look out your window which seems obvious, but it doesn’t tell you whether it’s going to be raining later that day when you’re about to go out and things like that. Again, you could just check on your phone but it’s just quite nice when you’re getting ready in the morning to be able to shout out various things to it, find out if you’ve got anything in your diary, find out the weather for the day. These are all kind of things they sell when they’re marketing their product that everyone knows abouts. So nothing groundbreaking.
George: they’re objects of convenience aren’t they? As opposed to something that’s drastically going to change your life, I feel.
Daniel: I wasn’t sure about the usefulness but actually, when we were talking about kids earlier, firstly, I've heard so many jokes. Actually, it got a bit old. She never repeated a joke, but my boys. I've got three boys and they were just asking it “tell us a joke, tell us another joke”. The other thing that works really nicely I think was actually, you can ask google a specific question. You can basically google using your voice. She’ll effectively respond with that little precis you get on the page, which can be really useful. My son was using it to do his homework so what year was the american civil war, because obviously that’s a big thing in English homework but she’ll come back with a specific answer and describe it and tell you the site from which it’s resourced. So that’s actually really powerful.
So another thing that I think was really powerful for me and actually really impressed me with the Google kit was its integration with chromecast. It’s super super slick, so you can ask how to show something on netflix, to show a youtube video and the screen would launch right up and voice commands, forward and rewind. So that was really really incredible. So I think if you have that in your house, this is going to be a really useful tool. I think the other thing that’s really nice is the home automation stuff, which if you can afford phillips hue bulbs or a NEST system, these integrate beautifully.
So I think that’s where these really come into their own; home automation, controlling TV and potentially helping your son with homework. Apart from that, I'm not sure what else they’re going to bring to the party just yet
Mike: with the echo dot, it doesn’t integrate directly with the messaging system. Sending your message, unfortunately doesn’t send a text message via your phone to another person. It sends your message through the alexa app. You never saw the message because you’ve never opened your alexa app to see fi you’ve had any messages.
Daniel: why would i?
Mike: Obviously apple and google are going to have the advantage of being able to integrate directly to the OS and probably free up a lot of those channels where Amazon haven’t got a phone in your pocket yet, so they’re kind of fighting against that. So, that is a huge downside for me, possibly the echo dot and until it can integrate with things that you would most likely want to be talking about which are messaging, email, various things like that in your OS on your phone, it’s not going to be up to par.
George: is that what you’d say is a big benefit for you, having one of these in your home?
Daniel: It’s integration into the ecosystem isn’t it? It’s like, I buy apple kit because it all just connects and amazon don’t provide a phone or an os. Google do, and so you were saying earlier about the pixel thing the two mesh,
Finally, and I guess the last thing we want to look at is what does this mean for developers? What can, if you’ve got an app or you’ve got some bit of software, what can you do with this bit of kit?
George: essentially, they both have a similar ecosystem when it comes to actually integrating with them. It’s just a case of using webhooks to then query the cloud wherever you’re running your back end solution. It will return the answer adn the device will speak it out if that’s the sort of application that you want to develop.
Daniel: so I think if your app is to do with home integration in any way shape or form, I think these guys are ready for you. If not, maybe hold off and see how things develop. I think it’;s the home automation space for me where they’re going to get the most benefit from these.
Okay, if you had to choose one, which one?
Mike: I’d go with the Google Home
George: aesthetically i’d go for the google home. They both serve a similar function for me. I've actually played around with the bigger brother of this and the sound is pretty incredible. I've used it at parties and stuff so that’s always fun to
Daniel: Ooh, parties
George: yeah, well I go to social events
Daniel: yeah I don’t. Google home for me every day. Set up a lot easier, looks better, it's better at natural language and while ti maybe doesn’t have as many apps, it is closer integrated with the things I might use. Obviously when the home pod comes out we can… that’s what we’ll do. Thank you for watching.